Thursday, October 20, 2011

Knapsack 10-27

Notes From My Knapsack 10-27-11

Jeff Gill


Yes, an Election Year. Oh Joy.



Tuesday, Nov. 8 in this year of 2011, begins a twelve month period of more politicking than the human eye, ear, and mind can truly comprehend.


Let's not look past this next week to over-anticipate the balloting of 2012; we will have no small number of charter amendments for Granville, and some pretty significant voter initiatives for Ohio, in the Nov. 8 plebiscite.


Already, though, we're considering the choices and decisions for this election in light of the national debate over which party will hold the executive branch, aka the White House, and control (if that word makes any sense in this context) Congress.


Our local concerns, for water and sewer rates, for the quality of our schools, intersect with federal mandates and guidelines, that themselves are funded or cut back based in part on some of the budgetary stresses of our overseas expenditures, such as for Predator drones and the occasional carrier task force sortie. So they all connect.


In response to a village council question about personnel cost increases, the answer was "a recent rise in the cost of employee benefits, driven in part by action on a federal level." All of which is to say that the cost of being a global empire has a way of trickling down to the local level.


That's why I want to keep asking the question: if an empire, by any other name, would smell as . . . much, then is that the scent we want to wear? Or is the idea of empire something that hangs in your nose like a middle school boy wearing far too much Axe body spray?


The debates, among GOP candidates and ultimately between incumbent President Obama and whomever the Republican nominee ends up being, will tend to talk about the economy on the surface – but I'm convinced the substance will be about empire.


Some of the "Occupy This-n-that" protesters would protest that the point for America should be to not be an empire at all, but I just don't see that as an option. Short of ceding a huge amount of sovereignty to the United Nations by many countries, not just the US of A, and US'ns outsourcing much of our global armed reach to the blue helmet crew, we are now and will be in the foreseeable future a global empire.


That's where I think permeating the coming year of electoral wrangling, in the media and on the floor of Congress, will be the question: "what kind of empire are we going to be?"


As more comes out about Khaddafy's endgame, and forty year lifestyle, and as it causes us to consider even more closely what's going on in Syria and Iran, without even getting into North Korea, it is clear that there are some scary people running governments in the world, with the ability to project power narrowly, but across great distances.


Then there's the relative instability of oligarchical systems like Saudi Arabia, Russia, and yes, even China. Being an empire means not only military obligations, but a certain degree of social and cultural self-interest for long-term stability woven into economic concerns.


So what's a self-respecting, even moral (or morally aspiring) empire supposed to do? Claim sovereignty over energy sources in distant lands directly or indirectly, or figure out how to power an economy without depending on overseas commodities? Buy up and control raw materials half a world away, as China is actively trying to do in Africa as most Americans still are baffled at the question "where is North Katanga, Alex?" Or shift consumption to products that can be grown, generated, or gathered within our own geographic neighborhood?


Empire. Some call it an ugly word, and history doesn't help pretty it up, but what it means and will look like is going to be a key factor in the American political landscape of 2012, even if you rarely hear the word itself used.



Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he has no imperial ambitions even over the back seat of his own car. Tell him your tales of empire at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

Faith Works 10-22

Faith Works 10-22-11

Jeff Gill


Is it a church, or something…else?



There's a place where people go, often as a family.


It's a place where they go to confront both fears and doubts, but also to laugh and celebrate, passing along family traditions that go back generations while generating a few new ones every year or so.


There is symbolism aplenty all around, and other people who gather with much the same intention, all gazing intently at the images, some subtle and amazing, others crude and startling, but all making young and old think about death, and what lies beyond.


Every year, a larger and larger portion of the family income goes to this place and the observance at home of the special day that everyone who passes through those doors celebrates. Even as the economy struggles, it's a priority to spend a chunk of what you earn not only for this event, this gathering, but also to share it back with many, mostly strangers, so they can know the odd mix of joy and awe that lies ahead for us all.


I'm speaking, of course, about the Hallowe'en store. Did you think I meant somewhere else?


Sure, it's just one day a year, but the fastest growing American holiday as measured by consumer expenditures. One date on the calendar, but another civic date called "Beggar's Night" just to keep everyone satisfied, and the lights and lawn d├ęcor and window clings and even tastefully arranged pumpkins on the porch go up earlier and earlier each year. Oct. 1 to Oct. 31, 'tis the season.


Do I overstate to compare it to a religion, a belief system? Well, there are plenty of people who claim a faith perspective who observe it in a church building maybe 2 days of the year, and there are lots of people who make at least that many trips (pilgrimages?) to the Hallowe'en store during the now six weeks the storefronts are "temporarily" open.


And look at the displays: they all, in one way or another, danse macabre-ly around the idea that beyond death is . . . something. Something unpleasant, something awful, or something awfully funny? We put on the whole armor of disguise and humor to fend off that which we spend money to shove in our own, let alone others' faces; a Raggedy Ann costume skipping past a skeleton sitting up from a Styrofoam tombstone.


What does it all mean?


Don't count me among the nay-sayers of Hallowe'en and Christianity mixing. Look to the roots of the word itself, the traditions of All Saints, the fiesta of Mexican Day(s) of the Dead with sugar skulls and graveside visits. There is a place for laughing at death, at the Devil himself, because everyone – churched or un-churched – knows that Satan hates being laughed at. No sense of humor at all, that one.


But in absence of any other belief system, Hallowe'en can awkwardly suggest one on its own merits, and a flawed structure it is, muddling zombies and vampyres and various undeads with magic spells and attributing power to wands and purloined skulls and twisted phrases usually stolen from the Mass anyhow.


Hallowe'en isn't necessarily a church, but it can become one if it's all you've got. I enjoyed visiting the Haunted Mansion at Disneyworld, but I wouldn't want to go there every Sunday.


What does how you observe the end of October (or the whole month) tell others about what you believe about death? Ask yourself that; the answer may surprise you.




Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher in central Ohio; tell him your story at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.